Why Do You Need a Strategic Marketing Plan?

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A strategic marketing plan is important to your marketing and public relations (PR) efforts.

Marketing isn’t selling. It creates awareness, interest, informs people about your business and its products and/or services while also building affinity and trust.

These are all important aspects that need to happen before somebody is willing to do business with you.

A strategic marketing plan is a guide that helps you do all things I mentioned so you can get the results you want for your business.

The reason I work with clients is two-fold. They either don’t want to do it themselves or they aren’t happy with the results they are getting.

99% of the time when somebody isn’t happy with their results and I ask if they strategic marketing plan the answer is no.

They are marketing but there isn’t any structure to it. Activities are random and don’t work together to produce a specific result.

I feel like I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s take a quick step back.

In this post, I’m going to discuss what a strategic marketing plan is and go into more detail about why you should have one.

I’ll then show you how you can build a basic strategic marketing plan on your own.

What is a Strategic Marketing Plan?

Let’s start by getting on the same page. What the heck is a strategic marketing plan?

This is important to define. If you looked up the definition of strategy on dictionary.com, it’s defined as: a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result.

I don’t see strategy and plan as the same thing. One informs the other. Strategy is part of your plan. Your plan is not part of your strategy.

A plan tells you what you are going to do. Strategy tells you how you’re going to do it. it informs your plan.

If you decide to paint your living room, your strategy tells you how it gets done. This becomes part of your plan as what you’re going to do.

Part of developing any plan is identifying what you’re trying to achieve or where you want to go. These are your goals.

Let me give you a non-business example.

If you were going on vacation, you wouldn’t just hop in the car and start driving. You would want to know where you were going first. This is your goal.

Let’s say you are going to vacation in Orlando. The next step is to determine how you are going to get there. Are you going to drive or fly?

The answer is your strategy.

Finally, documenting everything is what makes it a plan.

The example is kind of simplistic but you get the idea.

In essence, a strategic marketing plan tells where you want to go and how you’re going to do it.

Why Have A Strategic Marketing Plan?

Marketing and PR can be a powerful tool for your business but only if you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish.

I can’t tell you how many prospects and a few clients I’ve had who haven’t defined any goals and are just engaging in random activities hoping that it will result in something positive for their business.

If you’re doing this you are wasting time and money. As I’ve been told in the past, hope isn’t a strategy.

Imagine your favorite sports team. When they play, there is a plan in place. They don’t just go out and start playing and hope for the best.

When my niece and nephew were younger they played soccer and it was comical. They knew they needed to make goals there was no passing. Whoever got the ball first would go as far as they could. It was a pack of kids going up and down the field. Any goals that were made were an accident more than anything else.

The best argument I can give you to create a strategic marketing plan is that it organizes and focuses your efforts in a specific direction so you can get the business results you need.

You don’t want your marketing efforts to be like the pack of kids going up and down the field relying on chance to make a goal. You want everything you do to have a reason and a purpose behind it.

As I said in the previous section, goals are where you want to go. Having clear goals goes a long way to not only help your marketing efforts but your business as well.

Several years ago I was meeting with a client. We were engaging in activities but we weren’t being strategic. I was frustrated. I asked them what their business goals were and the silence was deafening.

They had no idea and they weren’t volunteering anything so I told them what I thought their goals might be. They didn’t agree or disagree. They just stared at me like I was speaking another language.

You started your business reason for a reason. You have things you want to achieve. This in turn informs the marketing that you do.

How To Create a Strategic Marketing Plan

There really isn’t one way to create a strategic marketing plan.

If you talked to 100 marketing agencies and freelancers you would probably see some similarities but they would all have their own way on how to plan.

I want to know as much as possible about your business and it shows in how I like to plan. The more I know about your business the better the plan will be.

While I have a process I follow, no two plans are ever exactly the same.

On top of this, I offer three different planning packages. The first is more basic, the second is more in-depth, and the third includes getting access to data and talking with people before we sit down to plan.

In this section, I am will show you how I would create a basic plan.

I think of a strategic marketing plan as having two distinct sections. The first is uncovering information about the business. We then use this information when we get into the marketing piece of the planning.

With that in mind, here is a simple framework that you can use to build a basic plan for your business:

  1. Business Goals
  2. Obstacles
  3. Target Market
  4. Differentiators
  5. SWOT
  6. Benchmarking
  7. Marketing Goals
  8. Marketing Strategy
  9. Marketing Objectives
  10. Marketing Tactics
  11. Measurement
  12. Scorecard

The first five steps are about discovering information about your business.

Step six is about seeing where your marketing is at right now. You’re looking at the impact your marketing has had and it also gives you something to build on.

Steps seven through ten are the marketing piece.

In step 11, we talk about measuring your efforts.

Finally, in step 12, it’s about creating a scorecard to track your goals and objectives.

If you click here, you can download a free template by clicking here (no email required) you can use to create your strategic marketing communication plan.

You can then use this article as your guide to help you create your plan.

Ready? Let’s go.

Business Goals

Your marketing and communication should always tie to business goals. I can’t stress this enough.

What are your business goals?

What are you going to do this year?

There are several items that I feel need to be addressed.

The first is to select the future end date for your plan. You can make this date one year from today’s date or you could tie it to the end of the fiscal year. However, I recommend a third option. Tie it to the end of the calendar year. It’s how most people already think in their day-to-day lives so it will be easier for them to understand.

I do my planning towards the end of the year. When I do it’s for the next year.

So, for example, if I sat down and started planning today, I would enter the future end date as December 21, 2022.

The next step is to determine what your revenue will be. You shouldn’t come up with this figure at random.

If you made $5 million last year it’s not a good idea to say that your revenue for this year will be $20 million.

It might be a nice five or ten-year target but chances are there isn’t going to be that big of a jump in one year. You also don’t want to make it $5,001,000. That’s too easy to meet. It needs to be challenging but attainable. 

Next is how much profit you want to make. This figure is typically a percentage. 

I like to listen to the earnings reports of the companies that I follow (I’m weird like that) and guidance is usually given as “earnings of $10 billion with a profit margin of 18%.”

If you want to figure out what 12% of $6 million in revenue is, go for it, but I prefer a percentage. 

Once you know what your profit is going to be, you are going to determine your top three to seven business goals for the year.

I strongly suggest not having more than seven. This is a case where less is more. If you have more than seven, you run the risk of not reaching some or all of your goals. 

Goals are your destination and they should be broad in nature. Goals also need to be SMART which is: 

  • Specific 
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timebound

When Apple launched the iPhone its goal was to capture 1% of the smartphone market by the end of 2008. 

This is a great example of a SMART goal but let’s break it down so you can see why. 

Apple wanted 1% of the smartphone market. This is both specific and measurable. It was also was attainable and relevant. 

The goal is timebound as Apple said it wanted to hit 1% of the market by the end of 2008.   

Obstacles

The next step is to address what obstacles might get in the way of you accomplishing your goals.  

I understand that there are things that could come up that you could never foresee.

This is about you thinking about what things could get in your way that you know about right now.

It could be your marketing budget. Maybe your rivals are all bigger than you are. Maybe you lost money in the last quarter. Maybe you are having a hard time retaining employees or customers.

I guarantee you have at least 2-3 obstacles. This is where you need to be brutally honest with yourself.

Target Market

Your target market is the people who would be interested in buying what you sell. You might also hear it called target audience.

It’s not uncommon for me to ask who the target market is and get the answer, “Everybody.”

This is a trap. When you try to reach everybody you will reach nobody. There is simply too much noise and a generic message that is meant for everybody won’t get traction. 

Let me give you an example of a target market.

My niece and nephew are teenagers and they loved to shop at Rue21 before our local location closed. I have taken my niece there on more than one occasion and can understand why it appeals to them. 

Of course, it doesn’t appeal to me at all but I’m not in the target market. If you’re over 30, I’m guessing Rue21 won’t have much, if any, appeal. That doesn’t mean that somebody over 30 won’t shop there but it does mean that they aren’t trying to appeal to somebody who is older than 30.

A target market isn’t limited to age. It could be based on other characteristics as well.

I met a woman at a digital conference who is a coach. Her target market is female entrepreneurs. 

I was approached by a tax and accounting service that focused specifically on small business owners. 

A target market could even be those who share the same values as you do. 

Patagonia sells outdoor clothing but they wear their values on their sleeve.

When you look at Patagonia’s Twitter page, it doesn’t say, “We sell the best outdoor clothing.” It says, “We’re in business to save our home planet.” It’s clear that they are trying to attract customers who share those values.

When you know who your target market is, it enables you to create content and messaging that resonates.

Differentiators

Differentiators are the things that make your organization distinct from your competitors. 

Every organization has differentiators. Some may have more and some have less, but you have them. You just have to look closely.

A differentiator could be tied to a product. 

Burger King and Wendy’s are fierce rivals in the same space but Burger King’s burgers are flame-broiled while Wendy’s beef is never frozen. 

The subtle differences are intended to tell people who buy burgers, “We have a better product.”

A differentiator could be your organization’s culture, the way you get work done, or the type of employees you hire. 

What can trip you up in this step is to determine something as a differentiator that really isn’t. 

The number one answer I get when I ask about differentiators is customer service. When you’re thinking about your differentiators stay away from this one. Everybody says they give great customer service. Even when they don’t. 

You need to dig deep and be honest about what really sets your business apart from your competitors. It shouldn’t be something trivial, it needs to be something that is distinct.

I guarantee that you have at least one thing that makes you different from your competitors. Those points of differentiation are what will resonate with your customers and your employees. 

SWOT

A SWOT analysis is a simple yet powerful tool that will help you understand four important aspects pertaining to your business. SWOT stands for:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities 
  • Threats

This analysis can help you determine where the organization is performing well and where it’s not. 

It also helps to identify external factors such as new avenues your company can pursue and the things that can harm your organization. 

Strengths and weaknesses are internal. This means they are under your control and easier to address.

Opportunities and threats are external factors. You will have limited to no control over them. 

Knowing is half the battle. This is why you do a SWOT. You want to uncover the good and the bad so you can plan for it. 

Strengths are the things that your organization does well. It’s what gives you an advantage over your competitors. It could be a product, a CEO, a designer, or a culture.

Weaknesses are those things that prevent the organization from performing at its optimum level. These are the things that need to be improved. Maybe there are issues with your distribution channel. The consequences of not improving weaknesses could be fatal in the long run.

Opportunities offer a set of circumstances that could be favorable for the organization. They are where an organization can do business that will have a positive impact on it.

For example, If the economy goes bad, I know that companies will pull their marketing and PR away from agencies and execute on their own. I see an opportunity in this situation because I offer strategic marketing planning services. I can help them plan and they can still execute. 

Threats can cause harm to your organization. It could be a recession, a natural disaster, a pandemic, or a change to an algorithm. They can turn your organization on its head and have the potential to be fatal.

Benchmarks

You need to know where you’re at now. If you don’t know where you’re at, how can you know how well your marketing is working? The answer is, you can’t.

Here is the type of information I like to have.

Let’s look at what you own first. This is your website and your email list.

How many people are coming to your site? Where are they coming from?

Is it Twitter? Google? Facebook?

You can get this information from Google Analytics, (I’m making the assumption that you have it set up. If you don’t, here is a guide from Orbit Media).

How many qualified leads came through the website? What was the conversion rate on them?

How many email addresses do you have?

If you’re sending out an email newsletter, what’s the click-through rate (CTR)?

Next, you want to look at your earned media efforts. What articles were placed and how much traffic did they push to your website?

Now, you want to look at your paid efforts (ads). What was your ad spend on each channel such as Facebook and/or Instagram? What are the cost per click (CPC) and the click-through rates (CTR) on the ads?

There are certainly more things you could benchmark but make sure that if you’re using them they tie directly to an aspect of your marketing.

Marketing Goals

You created your business goals earlier. Now it’s time to create marketing goals that tie to the business goals.

Remember goals are a destination. They are broad in nature and they need to be SMART. 

These goals are related to marketing and communication but they are being created to help you reach a business goal. 

Last year when I sat down and planned, I started by identifying my business goals.

Marketing is a business process and I believe that in most cases it should be helping add to the bottom line.

Not every business goal is going to be supported by a marketing goal. If your goal is to build a new factory, marketing will be of no use. If you’re trying to hire for that factory or sell the products made in that factory then marketing will become extremely useful.

When you’re creating marketing goals you want to look at the business goals and ask, “Can marketing help me reach my business goal?” 

If the answer is yes, you can move forward and create SMART goals for marketing.

Take another look at your business goals and see what you can connect to marketing.  

As with your business goals, you don’t go overboard with your goals. Keep them in the 3-7 range.

Marketing Strategy

Remember, goals are where you’re going. Strategy is how you get there.

It used to be that there were only a few channels available but the marketing landscape is now highly fragmented.

TV, print, and radio used to be the kings of marketing but there are many different channels that are available to you now.

There are multiple social media networks, YouTube, search engine marketing (SEM), your website, your email list, banner ads, and more available to you.

For this reason, I am a proponent of integrated marketing communication (IMC). I like the PESO model, created by Gini Dietrich at Spin Sucks because it breaks IMC into four areas:

  • Paid Media
  • Earned Media
  • Shared Media
  • Owned media

Paid media is ads. Earned media is media relations. Shared media is social media. Owned media is your website and your email list.

That’s the quick explanation. If you want to go deeper into the PESO model, check out this article.

Back to our strategy. The question is, “How are you going to achieve your goals?”

This is where you start thinking about how you’re going to use something like the PESO model.

As you develop your strategy you are going to look at each piece of PESO and determine how it is going to help you reach your goals. When we talk about tactics a little later you will apply PESO in a more specific way.

Look at your goals. What can be done in the area of owned media to help you? Earned media? Shared media? Paid media? 

I’m not asking you to be super specific here. You’ll get specific in the tactics. For now, it’s going to be something like: 

  • Use shared media to drive leads to our website content by the end of the year
  • Use owned media to pull leads through the marketing funnel
  • Use paid media to drive leads to a lead magnet
  • Use earned media to drive people to the website

Strategy tells you how you’re going to do something but it’s in a broader sense. Later, you will flesh this out when you create tactics.

Keep in mind as you create your strategy that it ties back to your goals. It’s how you’re going to meet them.

Marketing Objectives

You now have your marketing goals and strategy in place. Let’s create some objectives.

Your goals were broad. Your objectives are more specific. Think of them this way. If you broke down your goal into pieces, those pieces would be the objectives. 

I’m going to give several examples. The first one will be really general and the next two will be more business-oriented. 

You’re having a dinner party. That’s your goal. What do you need for that party? 

Let’s break it down. You need an appetizer, a main dish, a side dish, drinks, and a dessert. These are your objectives. You need to achieve all of these objectives to meet your goal.

Here’s a business example.

If the goal is to make $7 million in revenue how many leads would you need? How many of those leads would you need to convert to sales? How many widgets would you need to sell? How many customers would you need to retain? What kind of conversion rate would you need for each of your marketing activities? 

That was a random example. Let’s look at one that requires some thinking.

The goal is $1 million in revenue. The product you sell costs $500 and it’s only sold on your website which has a conversion rate of 20%.

How much product do you need to sell? It’s a matter of division. 1 million ÷ 500 = 2000. You need 2000 sales/conversions.

How many leads do you need?

We take the information we already have to figure it out. You need 2000 people to make a purchase and your website needs to convert 20% of leads to a sale. 2000 sales/conversions ÷ 20% conversion rate = 10,000 leads.

Your objectives are:

  • Drive 10,000 leads to the website
  • Convert 20% of leads to customers/sales
  • 2000 sales/conversions

Don’t overcomplicate it. Even complex things can be broken down into a series of steps. 

You started with goals that were broad. Now you are determining what you need to reach those goals. The objectives are more specific and must be measurable. 

You don’t get to say, drive leads to the website. How many leads?    

Marketing Tactics

You have been moving down the line from broad to more specific. You’ve developed goals, created a strategy, and developed objectives that will help you achieve those goals. Now it’s time for tactics.

Most people like to jump straight to tactics because it’s action and we love to take action. Sometimes it feels like we aren’t really doing much until we take action. However, action before thinking of where you’re going can cause issues.

Your tactics are informed by your strategy but they also tie back to your objectives.

Look at your objectives and strategy. Now, how are you going to get to that objective? Those are the tactics. 

The tactics are the actions that will help you reach your objectives and goals.

Here is a business example. If an objective is to get 30,000 leads and your strategy is to use shared, paid, and owned media, what actions need to be taken?

Let’s look at owned media first. A tactic for owned media could be to write blog articles that focus on your industry.

If you are using paid media, a tactic might be to run Facebook ads that drive people to your blog content. 

A shared media tactic could be to promote blog content on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. 

Earned media can also play into this. Maybe you write a guest post for a 3rd party site such as Fortune with a link back to your site.

I break this down into each area of the PESO model. What are my tactics for owned media? Earned media? Shared media? Paid media?

As you’re creating tactics it’s important to remember you need to measure what you are doing. 

Always test and measure your tactics. Don’t be afraid to drop something that isn’t working. That said, don’t try it for a month and then drop it because it’s not working.

You need to give it time. I was on Instagram for about 15 months before I decided that another tactic might be better. 

Rand Fishkin said Moz produced their White Board Friday for years before it took off and then became the most popular content on the Moz website.

Create your tactics and measure how well they are doing so can refine your efforts.

Measurement

Two years ago, there wasn’t really a good reason not to measure your marketing and PR efforts. There still isn’t but it has become more complicated.

Apple has made updates that make it harder for users to be tracked around the web. It also made a change to allow people more email privacy. It’s a big win for its users but makes life a little more complicated for us marketers.

Google announced that its Chrome browser, the number browser in the world will no longer eliminate cookies by mid-2023.

The fact that cookies are being eliminated is a big change that has a huge impact on measuring your marketing efforts.

I’m not going to go into detail about third-party cookies. It’s a topic on its own.

Suffice to say, if you’re not doing it already, you need to focus on first-party data. This is data that you are collecting directly from your customers. It’s the way forward and you don’t make this change you are going to find yourself in a bad place in 2023.

So what should you be measuring? The simple answer is as much as you possibly can.

As you walk through this process you have created goals and objectives that are SMART. You need to keep track of how well you are doing. I’ll talk about that more in a minute.

You have also created tactics. For each tactic, you need to measure how well it’s doing. Did you write a blog post? Great, how many people read your post? Created a video? How many people watched it?

If you’re not measuring you have no idea what is working and what isn’t. You won’t be able to fine-tune your efforts and improve your marketing.

For the goals and the objectives, you came up with a number and date. Something specific, measurable, that has a timeframe attached to it. Measuring will tell you how you’re doing in meeting them.

Tactics are a little different. You’re measuring to see how they are working. Marketing isn’t an exact scient. It involves testing your ideas and you won’t know how the test is going if you’re not measuring the results.

I write a blog article and promote it via Twitter. I measure how many people clicked through to that article from Twitter. I’m also measuring the overall views of that article because people could be coming from other places as well.

I use Google Analytics which is a free web analytics tool that tracks and reports web traffic. I can see the traffic of each page and where it’s coming from. It will help you make decisions on what is working and what isn’t. 

I dropped Instagram as a channel when I saw that my efforts were driving very little traffic. The traffic it did drive didn’t stay long. I tried it as a tactic and it didn’t provide a good return so I killed it.

Yes, there are some things that are harder to measure than others but that isn’t a free pass not to measure those things.

Scorecard

There is no point in setting up metrics to ignore them. The scorecard is intended to track where you are at so you can see your progress.

While you should measure everything, it doesn’t all need to be on the scorecard. 

The scorecard should include the most important things you’re measuring.

You only want to measure what you consider are the most important things that will help you achieve your goals. This is an idea of the things you can include on your scorecard: 

  • Website Traffic
  • Website Conversion Rate
  • Email addresses 
  • Email CTR (click through rate)
  • Qualified Leads
  • Conversion Rate (offline)
  • Ads CTR

You can include more than this if you like but I highly suggest keeping it high level. You’ll want to include who is assigned to a particular goal or objective (if applicable), what that goal or objective is, the metric, and the check-in dates. 

The dates can be weekly, biweekly, or monthly. It depends on your company and how fast things move.

Smaller companies may find monthly is the right time frame to look at while bigger companies might find it necessary to update the scorecard on a weekly basis.

Let’s look at a metric as an example. If you want 3,000 email subscribers for the year and your tracking on your scorecard weekly, the figure you put in will be cumulative. In the first month, you get 1847 subscribers. Week two would add onto the week one figure and so on. Here’s what it would look like:

Scorecard

The point of the scorecard is that you can see how you are doing and also hold yourself accountable. 

It’s something that should be reviewed in your marketing meetings. 

I did not include a scorecard in the template I’m giving you. The reason why is it could very different from one organization to the next.

This is something you would want to track in something like a spreadsheet anyway.

Share and Execute

If you have gone through this step-by-step you have a basic strategic marketing plan that will help you hit your business goals but you’re not finished yet.

One of the biggest mistakes that is made at this point is the plan you’ve invested the time to create gets put in a drawer and is forgotten about.

I want you to be held accountable. Share it with your organization and commit to giving quarterly updates on how well it’s performing.

Your plan has no value until you breathe life into it. You do this by executing it. Until you execute, the plan is still just an idea.

It may be a great idea but take it off the drawing board and make it real.

If you have questions, drop them in an email and I will be happy to address them.

Get to planning.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Shane Carpenter
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